Rocks Review: We can be part of division’s super six

Craig Stoner (with Tim Bond behind him) has been praised for recent performances
Craig Stoner (with Tim Bond behind him) has been praised for recent performances

Jamie Howell believes the Rocks will be part of a super six who will go for glory as the Ryman one south season unfolds.

With one third of the season gone, the men from Nyewood Lane are comfortable in third place – but it’s a tightly-packed top eight in which teams can climb and fall several places in one week.

Howell believes the current top six – Maidstone, Dulwich Hamlet, the Rocks, Whitehawk, Worthing and Folkestone – could break away from the pack as the league moves into its hectic winter schedule.

And he reckons his team are well-equipped to hold their own as members of that elite.

They showed their battling qualities last Saturday with a 2-2 draw at Folkestone, one of the sides just below them in the table, after taking the lead but then falling 2-1 behind.

Two goals from Jason Prior earned a point the Rocks felt they deserved and kept up their record of having lost only one league game so far.

In midweek the Rocks crashed out of the Ryman League Cup in a 2-0 loss at Leatherhead despite a lively first-half performance.

With another knockout competition out of the way, the Rocks can focus their efforts on the league now for a spell, with Eastbourne Town’s visit to Nyewood Lane on Saturday kicking off a run of six Ryman matches in 22 days, four of which are at home.

There may be another new face in the squad by Saturday, with the club close to signing a versatile and experienced player.

Howell said: “I was disappointed to go out of the league cup because I want us to win every game we play.

“But it does mean we can concentrate on our top priority, the league. There’s a tough schedule of games coming up – lots of them too – and it’s all to play for.

“It’s shaping up to be similar to last season, when we were part of a group of four or five who eventually broke away.

“I think if you look at the teams who are first to sixth at the moment, you’d struggle to find one who will fall away. It’s going to be very competitive between those sides and the key for us is to remain consistent and keep in the leading group.

“At Folkestone we withstood a lot of pressure and showed we could battle, where as maybe a couple of years ago that’s the sort of place where we’d have lost.

“There’ll be other games like that to come.”

Howell singled out goalkeeper Craig Stoner for his new hard-working approach to training and fitness which he said was paying dividends.

“Craig’s been doing a lot of work with goalkeeping coach Lee Conway. He’s putting in the hard graft and it’s showing in his performances – one save near the end at Folkestone was fabulous,” Howell said.

The Rocks have defenders Stuart Axten and Jon Marzetti back from their one-match bans, served at Folkestone for accruing five bookings, but will now lose Dan Beck for a similar offence. He will probably sit out the visit to Merstham.

Centre-half Tim Bond needs another week or so to recover from a hamstring tear, meaning Chris Breach and Brighton recruit Callum Sheriff are vying for the job of partnering Axten in the heart of defence against Eastbourne.